“The Door of Opportunity”
Welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. Most of us live in a society or culture that rewards hard work and good effort. We expect to be paid for the job we do. We want to be recognized for service given. An employer receives benefits from his employees and the workers receive pay and recognition, and that seems to be fair to all concerned. But when that system is challenged or even falls apart, those affected begin to question the process. They wonder what went wrong. Some feel cheated or overlooked. Some even benefit at the misfortune of others. Perhaps all of us can share personal experiences of how we were either blessed or hurt by such a system. Well, the salvation that comes through a relationship with Jesus is based not on the works we do, but on the grace of God. No one can do enough good deeds to earn His free gift of eternal life. That will be the focus of today's lesson, on “Key to the Kingdom.” We will look at a story Jesus told about how His Father treats us. It will focus on His goodness and kindness. God will be portrayed as one who loves people abundantly. Another word for that is grace. I hope you will be blessed by what Jesus has to say about our Father in Heaven. Stay tuned now as we open up our Bibles and study together.
Do you know someone who received God's free gift of salvation late in life? Or, do you know someone who became a believer a short time before he or she passed away? Now, perhaps that person was a relative. Maybe that person was a grandparent, a parent, maybe even a child. Or maybe he or she was a friend of yours for whom you had been praying for quite some time. On the other hand, did someone you know live a sinful or rebellious life before they passed away, and then, right before that happened, they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and were baptized into Him. You know, if any of those experiences are relatable, how did that make you feel? Well, hopefully you rejoiced and celebrated with the angels in heaven, as one who was lost was found. But then, after that initial reaction, did you perhaps think or even say, “Well, that's not quite right. That's not quite fair;” and you wondered if they would receive the same eternal reward that you are expecting to receive. You know, that feeling of unfairness might be present in some people. One might even think that because of their many years of faithfulness and service in God's kingdom then they deserve a better reward. A person might even say, “Well, surely God has a little bit more to offer me, instead of that person over there.” You know, we may know someone who thinks that way, and, sadly, someone who might even believe that is true. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19 and also chapter 20, Jesus is teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven. And as He's doing that, a young man asked Him what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. And he comes to Jesus and he says, “I have kept all of these commandments since I was a youth. What else do I need to do?” And Jesus said, “You need to sell your possessions and give your wealth and your money to those who are poor, and then come follow Me.” The man thought about that and he went away sad, because he was a man of great wealth and he was not willing to make that kind of transition. Well, some of His disciples heard that conversation taking place, and they asked the question, “Well, if that is the case, then who can be saved?” And Jesus made the response, in chapter 19 verse 26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And the point Jesus was making by saying that is this: God, not people, makes eternal life possible. It is not a matter of one's effort or one's big sacrifice, but it is always a matter of God's grace. Matthew then illustrates that point by including a story which Jesus told, it’s called a parable, and it highlights the significance and the importance of God's grace and its role in one's salvation. I want us to take a look at the first part of that parable, as we begin reading with verse 1 of that 20th chapter. <“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’”> The working day for Jewish men started early in the morning, and it lasted about twelve hours. And so we find in this story at about 6:00 in the morning, probably, the land owner went out to find workers for the day. And he found some workers and he agreed to pay them one denarius for a day's work. Well, that was about twelve hours worth of work and that was the going rate for work in that time. But he wasn't finished. He went back on several other occasions to do the same thing and to hire more workers. We just read that he went back at 9:00, at 12:00, noon, at 3:00 in the afternoon, and then even at 5:00 in the evening, just one hour before quitting time. Well, we are not told why he went back so many times and hired so many workers. The text doesn't indicate. But perhaps there was too much work to be done and he needed more workers or maybe those whom he had hired early on were not getting the job done; they were ineffective and he needed someone to come out and to do the job so that he would not have to pay more workers for another day. Well, whatever it was, he told the men whom he hired, “I will pay you what is right,” and so everyone worked for one denarius; and in today's currency, that would be about $3.50 in U.S. currency. Well, let's notice what happens next, at the end of this story, as we continue to read, beginning with verse 8 and following. <“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to the foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Did you not you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”> When it came time for these workers, at the end of the day, to receive their pay, those who worked twelve hours expected to be paid more than those who had worked only one hour or three hours or even six hours, and when that did not happen, they began to complain to the landowner. It really did not make much sense to them. We've worked out here all day long. We've done the majority of the work, and yet they are being paid the same amount as we are being paid. Well, the owner reminded them of some important things, he reminded them, first of all, that they had agreed to work for a certain amount, for one denarius, for the day. They were also reminded of the fact that he was the owner of the land. This was his vineyard. He was the one in charge. Additionally, he reminded them that this was his money that he was paying to them and he could do with it whatever he so desired. He could withhold or he could be generous. Well, this parable may offend some of us, today. It goes against our ideas of justice and fairness and right and wrong. Yet on the other hand, some might even be able to relate to those who receive the same amount of pay as those who did not do the same amount of work. And if we were in that condition, we perhaps were quite upset. Maybe we just quit right there on the spot and we just gave the job back. Maybe we complained to the person who was paying the wages and we wanted to see his superior. Maybe we got upset even to the point that we're going to file some kind of grievance or lawsuit against someone for what has just happened to us. Well, on the other hand, we might be like some of these people who worked only a short period of time, and yet they received the same amount of pay. And we might think, “Wow, look what happened to me. Well, I'm not going to tell the boss he made a mistake. I'm not going to let him know. I'm going to take this money that I was paid, even though I did not do the work, and I will go my separate way and be happy about it.” Well, that's what we see happening here in this story. Some were very thankful, while others felt very cheated. And those who worked all day wanted to be paid more, obviously. That only made sense. But the land owner chose to pay everyone based upon his compassion or based upon his generosity. And it's important to note that the landowner in this story represents God. God is the landowner. He is the one who owns the vineyard. He is the one who has the money and who is in control. And we notice in the story, everyone received only one denarius. Everyone received the same amount. Everyone received what was right. You know, the story makes little sense if we find ourselves in that first group of workers. It makes a great deal of sense, however, to Jesus, because He's illustrating His Father's grace. And that's the point of the story; it's a story about the amazing grace of God. Earlier, in chapter 19, at the beginning, Jesus invited the little children to come to Him, and the disciples did not like that. They didn't want it to happen. They believed that the little children would bother Jesus and keep Him from doing His ministry. But Jesus said, “No. Let the little children come to Me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” And He welcomed those children into His arms and He prayed over them. Well, that was followed up immediately by that rich man that we referred to a moment ago. He came to Jesus wanting to do something on a big level. He wanted to purchase salvation. He wanted to earn his eternal life with all of his great wealth and to make a difference in Jesus' kingdom in some way or another. And it was all of those events that the disciples witnessed which caused them to ask Jesus that question, “Well, who then can be saved?” The little children, they don't do anything. The rich young man, he has all of this money, but he can't be saved either. And Jesus responded, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Often times we tend to take that statement out of context. We say to ourselves, “Well, with God all things are possible,” whatever that might be. My plans or my activities or other people's well-being, and everything is possible with God; and we forget about what happens here. Jesus gave a direct answer to a direct question. The disciple said, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus gave the answer, “With man it is not possible, but it is possible with God.” And that was His answer. It was in regards to one receiving salvation or eternal life. And His point was, from small, innocent children to wealthy, influential people, no one can be saved on their own merit or by their good deeds. No one can earn eternal life. And no one can ever say to God, “I deserve to receive eternal life because look at all I have done. Look at how long I have served in Your kingdom.” When God's grace is involved, oftentimes, things happen that don't make much sense to us; and that's what happens here in this story. And so with that in mind, let us understand that we can never overestimate God's grace. God's grace is ever-flowing, God's grace continually pursues us. God's grace, indeed, is amazing. Well, as much as we might disagree or agree or understand or misunderstand God's grace, we need to keep in mind that the distribution of God's grace is up to God. It's His grace, not ours. It was the landowner’s money, not ours. And that's the correlation that Jesus is making. And what happens here in this parable is a reflection of how God treats people. It is the essence of His grace. Now, there are several ways we can restate that. I'll offer two. First of all, God's salvation is not dependent upon the amount of work one does for the Lord. We might serve many people and minister in many ways to all of those whom God puts before us, but God's grace is not determined upon that. But then secondly, it is not measured by how long one serves in God's kingdom, whether that is 60 years or six months. But God's grace is totally dependent upon His decision, and our salvation is dependent upon that grace. And that Grace is given to those who receive the opportunity, no matter when it is given. The more time given in God's kingdom, the service, does not ensure a greater reward. The one who received God's salvation at the so-called 11th hour, or 5:00 in the evening, will receive the same reward as those who received it much earlier. You know, the reward of an eternal home with the Lord does not change. Obviously, that is not the way things seem to work in our world today, is it? If we work for someone, we agree to be paid a certain amount of money at the right time, and if someone else has that same job or works less hours then we make the assumption they will receive less pay. Or if we have worked for a certain number of years, we might expect some time off, for vacation pay. But if someone who has the same job works less time, then, again, we make the assumption they receive less time off or less vacation pay. And that is what makes sense to us out in the working world. But again, God may not see things the way we see them. I think about the words from Isaiah, chapter 55. Isaiah records these words from God, in verse 8: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and neither are My ways your ways.” Sometimes we reverse that, don't we? We want our thoughts and our ways to be God's thoughts and ways, but we get it backwards. You know, God's thoughts and ways are much deeper and higher and far better than ours could ever be. And when it comes to His grace, His perspective is much different than ours. He knows what is best. He is compassionate and good. And He loves all people, because He created all people in His own image. And so no one needs to be upset with God for distributing His grace as He sees fit. And that is especially true for anyone who expects to be a recipient of it. Diligent efforts or length of service do not deserve a greater reward. It is always a matter of God's grace, and so we respond to that with appreciation and gratitude. I made a previous statement, a moment ago: We can never overestimate God's grace; and that is true. Here's another statement: We can never overestimate our work in God's kingdom. We might have been good at keeping His commands and serving faithfully for many years. We might have been a part of God's family for a long time. And all of that is great. It is important and we take nothing away from it. But whether we work all day long in the heat of the sun or for only one hour, we are to be grateful for God's grace, and we are to understand that none of us deserve it. And we remember, as I said a moment ago, God's grace makes eternal life possible. At the end of the day, when God settles our accounts, we are to trust Him to make things right. And whether or not that makes sense to us is not our concern. Instead, we would do well to remember, He knows how to distribute His grace better than we do. I think about two passages of Scripture. In Matthew 5 verse 45, Jesus said, “He makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good. He sends the rain on the just and on the unjust.” God is good all the time, and His promises never can be underestimated. And then those amazing words from Paul, in Ephesians 2 verses 8 and 9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith -and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works so that no one can boast.” Our works are eliminated so that we don't boast about them, so we don't say to God, “Well, look at what I've done. I deserve that eternal life.” But rather, it is through our faith in Jesus Christ and by the amazing grace of God that we are able to receive that free gift of God's salvation. God's salvation is available to all people everywhere. His grace never runs out on any of us. It overflows into our life in physical blessings and also in spiritual blessings, as we receive the salvation of His Son, Jesus. And none of us deserve that, no matter how long we have served in God's kingdom or what we have done in that time. But when we have the opportunity to respond to what Jesus Christ has done for us, it is important that we go through that open door of opportunity and receive His salvation, and begin to receive God's Amazing Grace in our life. And I hope you choose to do just that.
In the background, you might see two large doors and two small doors, and when I think about those doors, I'm reminded of a television show a number of years ago that was widely popular. I would watch that show, and the contestants would have a choice to make, three different doors, and they chose one, two or three, and they received the prize that was on the other side of that door. They did not know if it was going to be a good thing or a bad thing. We have closed doors and we have to make a choice as to how we will enter them, or even if we will. That's what life is all about; making good and right choices and hope they will turn out OK. When I think about making choices, the most important choice we will ever have to make is what we will do with Jesus. Will we choose to reject Him and deny that He is the Son of God, or will we choose to follow Him and become His disciple? Jesus stated, in John 10, verse 9, “I am the door. He who enters through Me will be saved. He will go in and out and find pasture.” Yes, Jesus is the door that leads to salvation, that leads to eternal life. And when we choose to enter, through Him, we know that He is the way, the truth and the life, and He offers an eternal life that is far greater than we can ever imagine. As you go about making choices today, I hope that you will choose well. I hope that you are blessed by the choices you make. But I also encourage you to choose Jesus today and to become His follower and His disciple and know the joy of being just that.
Thank you for joining us for today's broadcast. The stories, the examples, and the reminders about God's grace never grow old. It is good to reflect often on God's goodness and how His grace is truly amazing. This message, entitled "The Door of Opportunity," is available on our website. If you would like to listen to or view it again, please go to keytothekingdom.com. There you can download it in a variety of formats. This message, along with many others, is free from any cost or obligation, and I hope you will take a minute to find those which are of interest. Other information is on the website, as well. Interactive Bible studies and short inspirational messages are easily accessible. A free phone app is available to download onto your smart-phone, which will take you directly to our website. Also, you can find us on Roku® television; and one more way to find us through mass media is Facebook®. Every week, new, short, devotional thoughts are uploaded, and I would encourage you to find us there. It is our pleasure to share biblical messages on these media platforms. They are all designed to assist you in your spiritual growth and in your daily walk with the Lord. I do appreciate your interest in this ministry. Thank you again for being part of today's broadcast, and I invite you to join us again next week as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."